Monday, September 15, 2008

The aftermath of Ike

As most of you know, this past weekend a little thing called Hurricane Ike blew through Galveston Island and Houston, Texas. If you're in the Midwest like me, you caught the tail end of Ike in the form a very wet Sunday.

I feel bad for the people in Texas who got caught in this and I hope they are able to recover and rebuild. I know there were some people who refused to leave the island, and to be honest, I find it a little more difficult to be compassionate towards them because they were not only able to leave the island, they were mandated to leave it. And honestly, didn't they learn anything from Katrina?

Consider this: while some people in Texas chose not to leave their homes, the people of Haiti, hit by 4 storms in the past month, weren't able to leave.

Relief Operations Under Way In Devastated Haiti

Jason Beaubien/NPR

All Things Considered, September 12, 2008 · Relief operations continue in Haiti for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by two tropical storms and two hurricanes in the last month. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed and large parts of Haiti remain cut off from the rest of the country.

The international relief operation is focusing on the northern port city of Gonaives, which flooded twice in one week, but many other parts of Haiti are still reeling from this year's hurricane season.

In the Grand Ravine neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, 700 people are living in a school where there is no running water, no electricity, no beds and often no food. People have been packed in here for weeks.

Luita Armand has been sleeping on the cement floor here since late August.

"The only thing we want is for them to rebuild our house," Armand says. "Here it's a school. We can't stay here for a long time. We have to go home. Before we go home, it's very important that the government help us rebuild our house."

Armand fled to the school with her five children just before Hurricane Gustav made landfall on Aug. 26.

Distribution Difficult

One floor below where she sleeps, 122 children are packed into a single classroom waiting for cookies and juice. Unfortunately the cardboard box that's supposed to have the cookies actually contains bottles of bleach, so the kids get grape soda and Saltines.

Evel Fanfan, with a human rights group in Port-au-Prince, is passing out the meager snacks. He says what he needs now is for the government to establish some order in this chaotic encampment so he can distribute more substantive food.

"Some policemen, some people who can help provide security," Fanfan says. "Right now I'd like to get some rice to the kids. But I can't do that. I'm scared the old people just get it."

It's not just these 700 people in this school or the flooded residents of Gonaives who have been hit hard this hurricane season. All across the country — from Les Cayes in the south to Jacmel in the southeast to Cap-Haitien in the north — there are people who lost everything to the storms.

In the parking lot of the main offices of Catholic Relief Services, several dozen people are packing food into large plastic bags.

"We got rice, bread, peanut butter, beans," says Bill Canny, the country representative for Catholic Relief Services. "So it's a packet to sustain a family of five for 15 days. We have trouble getting these to Gonaives — the roads have been closed. But there are plenty of places affected and we are getting it to other parts of the country that are equally suffering from the effects of the hurricanes."

Haiti was hit by Tropical Storm Fay on Aug. 18, and then came Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike.

Catholic Relief Services first came to Haiti in response to Hurricane Hazel in 1954. It has grown into one of the largest aid agencies in the country.

Infrastructure And Agriculture Disruptions

Canny says this storm season has been a huge setback for farmers here.

"When the water drops a bit more, we'll be better able to do an assessment, but you can count on a very significant crop loss this year," he says.

Haiti is already heavily dependent on food imports — more than half of Haiti's food comes from abroad. Rising global food prices earlier this year sparked riots in the country and led to the prime minister's ouster.

With the crop losses from these most recent storms, Haiti will have little choice but to remain heavily dependent on food imports for at least another year.

The storms also have delayed the opening of schools by a month. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure have been wiped out. A newly refurbished hospital in Gonaives that was destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Jean was demolished again this month by Hanna.

"It's not often that a country can be hit by four tropical storms successively," says Abel Nazier, the deputy coordinator for Recent Disaster Management at the Haitian Interior Ministry.

Many Haitians complain that the government did not do enough to prepare for the storms, did not warn people to evacuate, was not able to rescue people who were trapped and now has no plan to get people back home.

Nazier denies all this. He says the death toll, especially in Gonaives, would have been much higher had the government not issued warnings right before Hanna hit.

"We don't have enough possibility in terms of resources — economical resources," he says. "But we have a good national system for recent disaster management."

Nazier says the government does have a plan for getting people back in to their homes, but he says that part of the response won't begin for another six months. Right now, he says, the government is focused on providing emergency relief such as water and food to the thousands and thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the storms.

The whole point of this blog is not only to write (and rant) about my thoughts on stewardship, but to encourage those of you reading this to be better stewards. Right now I want to encourage you to send money to a relief organization that will be helping the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. These poor people had it hard enough before these four storms, and this will only increase their food shortages and poverty.

Where you can help (links go straight to donation pages):

Doctors without Borders

The Greater Good (on the Hunger Site)

World Vision

Please think about what you can do to help. Right now, Haiti and her people need the world's compassion. And if your heart isn't led to help Haiti, then maybe there's another place in the world that you are led to help. Doctors without Borders and World Vision both help countries around the world, so maybe you can help in another place.

1 comment:

Eric Hadley-Ives said...

Thanks for the comments on Haiti and the news item. I think journalists ought to, as a general practice, provide links as you have done so that readers can contact people involved in solving the problems or helping out in the disasters.
In one of the classes I teach we talked about the organizational demands required to put together relief and evacuation plans, and then we started talking about how many people had been harmed by the hurricanes. My students were under the impression that few people had died and that the devastation wasn't especially terrible, and I would have shared their views if I had depended only upon what I happened to read and hear on my own, but since I'd read your blog post, I knew about Haiti and Cuba, and I told them about the devastation in Haiti.